Sunday, April 11, 2021

Simple Domains: Vassals and Tributaries

I've been playing Crusader Kings 2 again lately, and the split between feudal vassals who give you troops and city vassals who give you money is interesting.  It has me thinking about my Estates ideas from back when.

Maybe a good option for Simple Domains would be to classify vassal and tributary domains a little differently.

A vassal domain is one whose ruler has entered into a feudal contract with another domain.  The vassal domain's primary obligation is troops - rather than paying taxes in cash, it pays them (all or mostly) by maintaining and supplying troops and putting them at the disposal of its sovereign.  Taking a quick look over Simple Borderlands domains, it looks like if you roll your taxes into garrison you end up with about twice the standing troops you otherwise would, so I don't think this is wildly unreasonable - it's not like we're taking domains with 5kgp/mo in garrison and asking them to assemble 50kgp/mo standing armies for their lords to call up.

Maybe this is a good spot to use per-culture mercenary mixes; when you call your vassals up, they don't bring super-specialist armies, just the troops of their peoples' way of war.

Henchman domains are typically vassals, because they're loyal enough to trust with troops.  When you call up vassal troops, roll loyalty of the vassal; if you roll badly they make excuses and send only a fraction of their obligated troops.

Tributary domains, on the other hand, pay all of their obligations to their sovereign in cash.  You don't need to trust them with a double-size standing army, but if you want to turn their taxes into mercenaries, it will take you time.

Perhaps the arrangement between sub-domains and their sovereign has some influence on morale, depending on the nature of the underlying domain.  A hill tribe that you've subjugated may be happy to provide warriors, but they're cash-poor.  A trading city has plenty of cash but no access to good troops; asking them to maintain an army for you is a greater burden, and will reduce their domain morale.

Vassal domains providing troops instead of taxes seems like it might be a good way to accelerate the domain game, where the ability to accumulate an army is the limiting factor of an up-and-coming fighter.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Return to Wilderness Level

Once upon a time, I thought about having wilderness difficulty scale up and down sort of like dungeon difficulty.  I think that proposal had several problems, but I think maybe I see a better way to do it now.

I've been thinking about how one would/could do low-level wilderness adventures in OSR games.  The monsters in wilderness encounters are just so numerous that any encounter is likely to wipe out a low-level party that gets a poor reaction roll and fails to evade, and none of your "win buttons" work - if you cast sleep on the goblins, you drop a quarter of the warband, and the rest will still get you.

Some OSR systems already sort of have a method to adjust encounter difficulty based on dungeon level.  It's possible it was in AD&D and I just haven't seen the original source.  In OSRIC,

Lesser monsters encountered on a lower dungeon level
should have their numbers increased by the same amount
for each dungeon level lower than their monster level. For
example, the sub-table # column lists 2d10 for goblins (1st-lvl)
encountered on the first level of the dungeon. If encountered
on the third level of the dungeon, they would be three times
as numerous (6d10).

ACKS has a similar rule, with a different constant:

Roll the appropriate number encountered for the creature to determine how many are present. Increase or decrease this roll by one-half for each step of difference between the dungeon level and the Random Monster table used (round down).

OSE, surprisingly, does not seem to have such a rule, which is part of why I think it might be an AD&Dism.

But if we accept that the number of monsters appearing scales up with dungeon level, then we can argue that the wilderness is something like the 7th level of a dungeon, on the basis that a wilderness encounter of goblins is seven times (on average) the size of a dungeon encounter of goblins.  Taking ogres instead, we get something more like a 4th-level dungeon, since ogres appear on the 3rd level of dungeons and an encounter with them in the wilderness is only twice as large as a dungeon encounter.  We could probably go through and figure out the average "effective dungeon level" of wilderness from all of the monsters that appear on the "random monsters by dungeon level" table.

Just looking at the table and a few entries instead of doing that analysis, I think something around dungeon level 5 is probably pretty close.  Possibly with an extra adjustment for ~1HD creatures that causes them to scale up faster.

If we characterize generic wilderness in this way, as a multiplier on encounter size, then we can alter that characteristic for different wildernesses, just as we do for dungeon levels.  This provides another way to create difficulty gradients in pure wilderness like we already have in dungeons - and a much finer-grained one than ACKS' borderlands-vs-wilderness distinction!  If you meet goblins in the Sunny Meadow, effective dungeon level 2, you only encounter two gangs, and sleep can still save the day.  If you encounter goblins in the Ash Wastes, effective dungeon level 7, you get your usual 2d6 gangs and sleep will not save you.

Characterizing biomes with effective dungeon level also provides a way to figure the size of unguarded treasures (or trapped treasures)  in the "wilderness as dungeon" model.

It might also be useful as a starting point for the effective level of the first level of dungeons located in those biomes.  If you're in the Ash Wastes and you find a dungeon entrance, the first level is not going to be as easy as the first level of a dungeon in the Sunny Meadow!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Out of Characters? Play the Monsters

Had a discussion recently about how to handle players whose characters have died during a dungeon crawl.  One traditional solution, back even to Gygax, is to have new characters appear in the dungeon at the first plausible opportunity, maybe having been captured by monsters or being the remnants of another adventuring party.

I don't really like that solution though.  At the very least it messes with the resource management game, to have new characters at full HP, full spells, and full equipment joining the party in the middle of the dungeon as a matter of course.  As an infrequent thing, I wouldn't mind too much - meet another party, roll well on reaction, join up, fine.  If it were accompanied by some resource exhaustion on the incoming character, that might be fine too.  But the stated policy of many DMs, to have new characters join the party at the next possible excuse, does not seem like a policy that I would want to make known to my past (occasionally exploitative) players, particularly in the presence of the Reserve XP rule allowing them to bring in new characters of higher than 1st level.

Maybe the problem here is really Reserve XP.

But in any case, that's not the thought that I came to share.  As I mentioned last post, Beyond the Black Gate has been on my mind.  Another post of his which has been influential on my thought was about Arneson's impartiality, and this bit sprang to mind:

He would go so far, sometimes, as letting the players roll the dice for both sides of a conflict. Once, when the party's boat was a attacked by a horde of lizardmen, he told us how many there were, their armor class, their hit points, what they needed to hit us, and so on. They were stupid, he explained, and fanatic, and would fight to the death, so we should be able to take care of that ourselves, and he was going to go get a coke and he'd be back in a few minutes to check on us. Half of the players grinned at his audacity (me included), while the other half looked around for the hidden cameras or waited for the punch line.

And Boot Hill's bit about having players with no stake in a particular fight play the opposing NPCs is also fresh.  So...

If a player with all dead characters has finished rolling up their next one and is now bored, let them run some of the monsters in combat.  Heck, maybe let them direct some random encounters out around the edge of torchlight.  I could see this being tricky to do well given partial information - presumably you don't want to show the player the ground-truth dungeon map, because his next incarnation may well come back to this section.  But I think having them run, say, an humanoid champion and his goons in a combat is probably pretty reasonable.

When I was first starting to learn to DM, my father did something similar, I think, introducing me to monster statblocks and letting me run a few of them in combat.  Granted, that was in 3rd Edition, where the statblocks were a lot more complex, but I still think this might be a reasonable avenue to help players get familiar with how things work on the other side of the screen.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Wilderness as Dungeon - Monster Rooms, Strongholds as Treasure?

Previously in this train of thought:

  • Never Show Them The Map (2016): Showing your players the ground-truth hex map ruins the joy of exploration.  Dungeoneering gameplay gets this right by making them map for themselves.
  • Applied Wilderness Theory (2017): Trying to build a microsandbox borrowing some elements from dungeon play; thinking about days as like turns, and dividing monsters into beasts, sentients, and scary monsters, with the same ratios that those appear in dungeons.
  • Further Thoughts (2017): Thinking about stocking using the specials, traps, unguarded treasure, and empty ratios used in dungeon stocking, as well as inverse-jayquaying, creating barriers to otherwise mostly open wilderness movement.
  • Revisisted (2019): The realization that the hex is more like a 10' square than like a room.  A repudiation of microsandboxing (for reusable wilderness / campaign play).  Considerations around "rooms" or "biomes" in the wilderness.

BH2 got me thinking about the wilderness game again.  Something I've never really worked out to my satisfaction before with the wilderness-as-dungeon idea is how you handle "monster" rooms, if you're following a dungeon-like stocking procedure.  Putting a special somewhere in a 7-10 hex biome is easy.  But it wouldn't make any sense for a wilderness area to have no monsters - surely there are a few bears in the forest.  So then what differentiates a "monster" room from a regular wilderness area?

Two ideas eventually merged.  One was from Koewn's comment on Simple Domains that they looked a lot like monster lair entries, but really beefed up.  The other was revisiting Beyond the Black Gate's How I Hexcrawl posts while thinking about False Machine's Crypt of the OSR post, about the bloggers of old who no longer post.  BtBG noted:

With wandering monsters, I like to have certain "iconic" monsters for each area (such as werewolves in the Blighted Forest and Ankhegs in the Sunken Hills, etc), rather than a mixed bag, as it gives those areas a more distinct flavor. I would then assign a chance for an encounter based on my perceived density of the local monster population.

I think that's probably a reasonable way to handle a monster-heavy biome: roll once for monster type for each "monster room", and the biome is crawling with them.  I'm considering calling it an infested biome.  It might be goblin-infested or panther-infested or man-infested or wyvern-infested or whatever.  All lairs in that biome are of that type of monster (although contra ACKS, I think at most one lair per hex is a reasonable concession to manageability).  The random encounter frequency is higher than normal, and a strong majority (5/6?  9/10?) of encounters in that area are with creatures of that type.

A man-infested biome might be a borderlands domain, or it might just be full of bandit camps.

It might make sense to have a separate table of monsters which can infest a biome, or which are interesting as signature monsters.

Non-infested biomes / non-monster rooms still have monsters, they're just a grab bag and not present in the same density as in an infested biome.  Roll random encounters and lair chances normally for terrain of that type.

If about 30% of biomes are infested (the same proportion as monster rooms in the dungeon), and each biome borders 4-6 other biomes on average, then most infested biomes will have about one or two infested neighbors.  Border tension!

Something else I've been considering is ruined strongholds as treasure.  Yes, I know, they often get used that way already.  But it seems like something that a wilderness-stocking system should take into account.  It would be interesting to figure the value of a ruined stronghold into the total treasure of an infested biome (and to say that most biomes infested with sentients will have some amount of fortification), and to make taking and holding a stronghold grant XP, much like building one.  But I have no concrete proposals yet.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Wilderness Movement Speed - Wooded Hills as Default?

There's a funny asymmetry in the way we deal with numbers.  Dividing is tricky; you often have leftovers and have to deal with rounding and it's just a slow operation.  Multiplication is relatively easy.

Maybe it makes sense to reframe the "normal" wilderness movement speed based on wooded hills, sort of the default background terrain for D&D unless otherwise specified, and then have multipliers relative to that baseline rather than setting speed based on the best possible terrain, flat plains, and then dividing.

In ACKS, wooded is x2/3 and hills are x2/3, so if you are in wooded hills you multiplty those and get 4/9 which is close enough to 1/2 for government work.  Which, conveniently, is also the speed multiplier for mountains, swamps, and a variety of other terrains.

So then this looks like:

  • 120' speed -> 12 mi/day, 2 hexes
  • 90' speed -> 9 mi/day, 1.5 hexes
  • 60' speed -> 6 mi/day, 1 hex
  • 30' speed -> 3 mi/day, 0.5 hexes

Being able to just divide speed in feet per turn by 10 to get miles per day is pretty nice; it's not that the arithmetic was tricky before, but 10 is a super-easy constant to remember.  Riding a medium horse with 180' speed?  18 mi/day, boom.  And as long as combat speeds remain multiples of 30', wilderness speeds will remain multiples of half-hexes.

Then if you're on a road, or in flat clear terrain, multiply by 2.  If both, multiply by 3.

The 9 mi/day is a little annoying, but "three hexes per two days" isn't too bad.

Forced march is also a bit annoying, since multiplying say 1.5 hexes per day by 1.5 gives you 2.25 which is not a multiple of 0.5, but I suppose one could go with "cover two days' distance in a 16-hour marching day, then have to rest for two days"?

Having a table that handles rounding or dropping fractions could also be a reasonable approach for dealing with odd situations like "we have 90' speed and we're forced-marching (x1.5) through scrub hills (x1.5, if you wanted to re-introduce the increased speed for not having the forest penalty), we move 3.5 hexes".  Or just don't worry about it and find workarounds that let you multiply by 2 instead.

Flying also becomes quadruple speed instead of double, since speeds were halved.

I think I like this proposal a lot more than my movement points idea.  Sure, it loses some detail (doesn't distinguish between hill forest and flat forest, for example), but ultimately...  I'm not sure that's worth worrying over.  Differences in terrain speed make computing optimal paths more annoying, but if you don't show your players the map of the wilderness, they can't compute optimal paths anyway until they've been there and back and done some exploring.  So you shouldn't be losing too much gameplay here, and what routing "gameplay" you are losing wasn't really fun, so...  sounds fine?

And returning to the wilderness as dungeon metaphor, I guess instead of using soft-walls of slowing terrain types where you have to stop and think about routing all the time, you can instead use hard-walls like impassable ridgelines and rivers to break up "rooms" and only occasionally include slow and fast terrain to mix things up.  Just like in dungeons, where most dungeon floor is just...  floor, with standard speed, separated by walls.

Having 12mi/day as the standard is also pretty close to Arneson's 10mi/day (thanks for mentioning this, DHBoggs!).

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

BH2 and Lost Secrets of the Old Hexmappers

Having read the Boot Hill rules, I decided to pick up a couple of the old modules too, because hey, you can get the whole line for less than a single expensive system.  I read BH5: Range War first and it was fine (sadly it did not have the "how much does having a farm or ranch earn you, the owner?" questions I had from the core rules), but BH2: Lost Conquistador Mine (by no less a pair than Cook and Moldvay) has some interesting stuff going on.

In particular, there's a hex map of a region of wilderness and they do some things with it that I've never seen on a hex map for an RPG before. 

The two biggest and most obviously novel things are that some hex-sides are marked as impassable, and the visibility distances of some features are marked on the map itself.

Impassable hex-sides occur along ridge-lines through high mountains.  On reflection this seems like sort of an obvious thing to do, coming from the wargaming tradition - there are impassable hex-sides on the OGRE map, if I recollect rightly.  But I've never seen it on an RPG wilderness map before!  The best you ever get is that rivers are sometimes impassable except at certain points.  But making hex-sides impassable for other reasons is an interesting tool for the Wilderness as Dungeon toolbox - sometimes the rooms really do have hard walls!  And it gives Climb Sheer Surfaces a use in wilderness play too.  This might be an interesting way to represent the fact that many mountains can only be summited by a few routes (four trails up Fuji, fewer up Everest and Rainier if I recollect rightly).

Mountain peaks are also marked with a pair of numbers, the first representing the number of hexes away from which they can be seen with the naked eye, and the second representing the distance at which they can be seen with a telescope.  I don't know how they determined these numbers; it seems like taking prominence above surrounding terrain into account could be tricky.  But they look mostly pretty reasonable, if you're willing to accept the abstraction that they're visible at the same distance in all directions.  Anyway, I'm just thrilled to see spotting distance for mountain peaks on a hex-map at all.  The Old Masters were worrying about the same things that Trilemma and I do.  Maybe we're on the right track.

Visible from 2 5-mile hexes with the naked eye, or 6 hexes with a telescope

On a similar "on the right track" note, the module comes with a hex-map for the players to fill in as they explore, with just a small section around the starting town filled in.  Cook and Moldvay knew: Never show them the map!

And the treasure map that is given to players is a stained, torn, creased, hand-drawn mess, and the text on it is in German (back in a pre-smartphone pre-machine translation age).  German is a great choice really, since it's sort of close to English, enough that you can probably draw some conclusions in combination with the drawings, but not high-confidence ones.  Some of the landmarks on it are also no longer accurate within the game-world, or not quite as unique as the map's author thought.  It's a wonderful "give them some hints but don't just tell them where it is" treasure map.

A curiosity that I hadn't seen on a hex map before is that there's a dry riverbed, which can only be entered and exited in certain directions in certain hexes.  Naturally, it can also flash-flood.  Sort of a variation on blocked hex-sides.

One other odd property of this map is its sparseness.  I haven't done a precise count of its rows and columns, but I reckon it about 20 hexes tall and 50 or 60 wide.  In those thousand hexes, there are about 15 named and described features (which have visibility numbers in the map's key) only a couple of which have people, plus about ten mountain peaks.  It's very sparse.  And only about ten wilderness encounters are described (one of which can only take place in a particular region).  So I'm not sure what to make of this.  I'm a big believer that putting something in every hex is an unreasonable amount of work, but having one feature per 40 hexes (counting the peaks) is lower than even I would expect.  It's an interesting reference point I suppose.  Maybe this is partly because it was intended as a tournament module and only needed to fill a single-digit number of hours; there was no need to fill a hex map to the same degree that you would if you were to run a sustained campaign on it?

In any case, a very interesting hex-map.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Playing with AD&D's Weapon-vs-Armor Table

Delta had a good post the other day about what he believes to be a big error in the weapon-vs-armor table present in the 1e DMG (and as far as I can tell, identical to the one in Supplement 1, Greyhawk, which I noted in passing).

I think Delta is correct, that the modifiers were just taken by looking at the difference between 8+ and the target number for each entry, which means that (for example) maces aren't particularly good against heavy armor, and that in general you get very un-Chainmail-like outcomes for a table nominally derived from Chainmail.

But Delta doesn't quite follow through to publishing a revised table.  He asks at the end if that's something that people would like to see.  And I was curious so I decided to have a stab at it myself.

First I converted each of the target numbers on 2d6 into a probability and then into a target number on d20.


TN 2d6 % hit % miss TN d20
5 83.33 16.67 4
6 72.22 27.78 6
7 58.33 41.67 9
8 41.67 58.33 12
9 27.78 72.22 15
10 16.67 83.33 17
11 8.33 91.67 19
12 2.78 97.22 20


Then I filled those d20 target numbers in for each weapon:

d20 target numbers No armor Leather Shield only Leather
Chain Chain
Plate Plate
Dagger 6 9 12 12 15 17 20 20
Hand Axe 9 9 12 15 17 17 19 20
Mace 12 12 12 15 12 12 9 12
Sword 9 12 12 15 12 15 17 19
Battle Axe 12 12 12 12 9 9 15 17
Morningstar 6 6 9 9 6 9 12 12
Flail 9 9 9 9 6 9 6 9
Spear 12 12 15 15 17 17 19 20
Pole arm 6 6 6 9 9 12 15 17
Halberd 12 12 12 9 6 6 9 12
2H Sword 6 6 6 6 4 4 6 9
Mounted Lance 4 4 4 4 6 9 12 15
Pike 12 12 12 12 12 12 15 17

Finally, I converted those target numbers into modifiers relative to the baseline target number to hit that type of armor in Supplement 1 (10+ for No Armor, 12+ for Shield Only, 17+ for Plate+shield, etc)

No armor Leather Shield only Leather
Chain Chain
Plate Plate
Base to-hit: 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Dagger +4 +2
+1 -1 -2 -4 -3
Hand Axe +1 +2
-2 -3 -2 -3 -3
Mace -2 -1
-2 +2 +3 +7 +5
Sword +1 -1
-2 +2
-1 -2
Battle Axe -2 -1
+1 +5 +6 +1
Morningstar +4 +5 +3 +4 +8 +6 +4 +5
Flail +1 +2 +3 +4 +8 +6 +10 +8
Spear -2 -1 -3 -2 -3 -2 -3 -3
Pole arm +4 +5 +6 +4 +5 +3 +1
Halberd -2 -1
+4 +8 +9 +7 +5
2H Sword +4 +5 +6 +7 +10 +11 +10 +8
Mounted Lance +6 +7 +8 +9 +8 +6 +4 +2
Pike -2 -1
+1 +2 +3 +1

This seems somewhat unnecessarily complicated, though, since you have to check both a modifier for the armor and then a modifier for the weapon.  I rather like the big table of d20 target numbers - sum your adjustment from Str, magic weapons, and level, subtract for defender's magic armor and rings of protection, roll your d20, add your bonus, and look up in the table what you need to hit.

I don't know that these direct conversions by probability are actually reasonable within the context of balancing weapon choices for AD&D.  The heavy weapons get some really big bonuses to hit, and they don't have the counterbalancing factors that they did in Chainmail's man-to-man combat system, where opponents using lighter weapons could parry or attack multiple times in a round against opponents using heavier weapons.